PHILADELPHIA – Danny Briere is undersized, never undervalued.
In the post-season, no Philadelphia Flyer delivers giant numbers like the pesky 5-foot-10 Briere.
“He’s everywhere,” forward Claude Giroux said.
Briere has stamped himself as one of the Flyers’ great free-agent signings on the strength of his post-season production. Consider: Briere has 94 points (41-53-94) in 93 career playoff games. He scored six goals in Philadelphia’s seven-game post-season win over his former team, Buffalo.
Of course, Briere is no slouch in the regular season—he was an all-star this year. But when the games matter most, no one comes up as clutch.
Last season, Briere led the Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup finals. He finished as the leading scorer in the post-season with 30 points. He also set the Flyers’ franchise record for post-season scoring, eclipsing Brian Propp’s 12 goals and 28 points in 1987.
Briere had 12 points (three goals, nine assists) against Chicago in the finals, the most in the series since Mario Lemieux had 12 in 1991, and was one point shy of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record set in 1988.
At any height, those numbers are big.
He’ll have to produce under pressure again when the Flyers open the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston.
Game 1 is Saturday in Philadelphia.
Briere tormented the Bruins in last year’s playoffs when he tied Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at 3-3 after the Flyers trailed 3-0. Down 3-0 in the series, the Flyers capped a historic comeback with four straight victories.
Briere has no explanation for his post-season hot streak.
“I wish I had an answer. I really don’t know,” he said. “I guess luck has a lot to do with it—be at the right place at the right time.”
He hit free agency at the right time after the 2006-07 season. Briere had blossomed into an all-star and led the Sabres to two straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals but Buffalo wanted to slash payroll.
The Flyers wanted to make a splash after a season where they set team records for most losses and fewest points.
Instead of returning to Buffalo, where he was a co-captain and fan favourite for the winningest team in the NHL, Briere opted to sign with the worst team in the league. General manager Paul Holmgren wooed Briere enough to sign an eight-year, $52 million contract—the richest free-agent deal in team history.
Briere scored 72 points in his first season and led the Flyers to the Eastern Conference finals. He was injured most of his second season, but played 75 and 77 games each of the last two years, respectively.
His size hasn’t affected his durability—a necessary trait at centre.
And now Briere, who had 34 goals and 68 points this season, has added inspirational speeches to his post-season resume.
With the Flyers trailing against Buffalo after two periods in Sunday’s Game 6, he fired up the Flyers with a passionate speech that he wasn’t ready for the season to end.
“He let it rip a little bit,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought it was good. I was inspired. I wanted to go out, but I’m a little too old and too heavy.”
Briere promised during his inspirational talk that goalie Brian Boucher would not allow a goal the rest of the game. Boucher delivered and was flawless the rest of the game as the Flyers rallied from a two-goal deficit to win and send the series back to Philadelphia.
“Sometimes it takes a guy to stand up to put things on the line and on the table for everyone to see,” Boucher said. “It was a good move by him.”
Boucher and Briere were teammates in 2002-03 with Phoenix. Briere was waived twice by the Coyotes before he was traded to the Sabres. Boucher has been impressed with his transformation from role player to Stanley Cup star.
“When he broke into the league, size was always an issue back then,” Boucher said. “Now that has kind of changed where if you can skate, then you can play. You can see it now where he is a true leader in a sense that he brings it. When he is inspired, like he has been, there is no one better than him, which is great.”